The Hair Opera
- Original title
- Mohatsu Kageki
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 60 minutes
- 22 October 2001
by Jasper Sharp
Well, I've heard about directors pouring blood, swear and tears into assuring their feature debuts make it to the screen... but pubic hair?! You have to confess that making your privates public in order to explore the cultural taboos that Japanese society appears to have about female body hair isn't the most orthodox first step for a new filmmaker. Then again, as it was only within the past yew years that the censorship board Eirin started letting the first few stray strands through to the cinema screen whilst seeming quite happy to let such revolting (yet hairless) products as Star of David (Dabide no Hoshi: Bishojo-Gari, 1979) or Naked Blood (Megyaku: Akuma no Yorokobi, 1995) out into the public forum, I guess it was only a matter of time before someone lurking in the counter-cultural underworld of experimental film would pluck up the courage to tackle this bizarre anomaly.
Born in 1964, avantgarde composer Obitani, responsible in 1984 for pioneering the field of "paper music" (constructed from the sound of newspaper articles) turned to the film medium to investigate the relationship between image and sound, resulting in such recent video work as the bizarre Idiotic Scooter Girl (Aho no Genchari Musume) series that began in 1999.
In his first film he turns the camera on himself to take centre stage as the eager young filmmaker searching for a hook for his next production. The ideal subject comes along in the form of female artist Yosefu Kosuzu who is currently holding an exhibition of a series of samples of pubic hair mounted on white card backgrounds at a local gallery. Each piece is identified by the name and date of the subjects of Miss Kosuzu's various sexual conquests over the years. (Stop sniggering at the back there - you've only got to look at Tracey Emin's recent exhibitions in the Tate Gallery in London to see just how far the art world has come along from Monet and Degas over the past century!)
After an initial interview, the enthusiastic young filmmaker finds himself excited by the idea of getting closer to the subject with the end goal of donating a few tufts of his own to be immortalised by the artist (and obviously getting himself laid in the process.) He sends out a request to the artist in the form of an experimental Super-8 short entitled "The Hair Movie", enclosing a camera and sound recording box in order for Kosuzu to send back her filmic reply. She is unimpressed by his first effort, but becomes increasingly amused by his later cinematic gestures. These include serenading her with an acoustic number entitled "Why Can't We All Let Our Hair Grow Long?" and footage from a few years previously of when the artist as a young student first opted for the short-back-and-sides look in order to facilitate entry into the job market - scissors being rather too conventional a means, he attempts to burn off his shaggy locks with a cigarette lighter.
Increasingly desperate, he films himself snipping off a few strands from his nether-regions to send to her, intended as bond to make the artist feel obliged to sleep with him. However, when the overzealous and over-sexed young filmmaker finally oversteps the boundaries of good taste with a request to lick her armpits, she curtails the correspondence with a brief shot of a piece of card on which is scrawled the text "Hentai!" (Pervert!). Unperturbed, Obitani breaks into Kosozu's apartment while she sleeps and begs for her to take part in his film about hair. She eventually succumbs, and subjects herself to his intense fixation as he starts filming her nape, legs, and various other furry body parts, shaving her armpits to allow him to chronicle its subsequent re-growth over the following few weeks. The more unsaid about the rest of the film's hairy antics, the better.
With The Hair Opera, Obitani ingeniously overcomes his zero-budget limitations to weave a compelling and outrageously funny 60-minute tale. Making a virtue of such idiosyncrasies of the grainy, raw 8mm format as trapped hair beneath the camera shutter and scratch marks on the film's surface, he utilises these apparent imperfections to explore the aesthetic and narrative possibilities arising from these fuzzy blemishes in much the same way that Kenji Murakami did with the video medium in Tel-Club (Natsu ni Umareru, 1999), or Mexican director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo in Homework (La Tarea, 1990).
A virtual one-man production, with Obitani acting in the capacities of writer / director / producer / editor / composer and main lead of this piece and only Kosozu as the object of young filmmaker's depilatory obsessions sharing the screen-time, The Hair Opera is so outré that I can guarantee you'll have never seen the likes of it before. Perhaps a bit of a trim towards the end would have tidied things up a little bit, but ultimately, whether you're the sort of person to get either excited or repelled by those stray hairs found in shower plugholes or on bars of soap, you've got to admire Obitani's cheeky charm in making such a few strands go such a long way. I just dread to think what ended up on the cutting room floor...